Repercussions from layoff of 500 at Pa. unemployment centers continue to spread

     Applicants complete forms at a job fair in Newark N.J. in February 2013. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

    Applicants complete forms at a job fair in Newark N.J. in February 2013. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

    Back in December, Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation Office cut off Tasha Flynn’s benefits, claiming she had missed two sessions of a mandatory program to help her find a new job.

    Flynn, who lost her job as a hospice aide in July, admits she missed one session because she got the start time wrong. She said she was actually on the bus heading to the orientation at a PA CareerLink in Philadelphia when she realized it, but was told she would not be able to join the session because she was late. 

    “And they told me, no, I couldn’t reschedule because it was my second notice being sent out,” said Flynn, who claimed she never received another notice. 

    “It’s hard to miss,” she said. “It’s a yellow notice, as bright as day.”

    On Tuesday, Flynn will have her chance to appeal — more than one month after she lost her benefits.

    It’s yet another ripple effect of last year’s massive layoffs at Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation service centers. On Dec. 19, 2016, more than 500 state workers were furloughed as a result of a partisan funding spat between Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Senate. 

    The lack of staff has meant hours-long telephone hold times and busy signals for those seeking unemployment benefits. 

    It’s also meant long waits for employers and unemployed workers like Flynn looking to appeal claims.

    In addition to service center employees, the state also furloughed 13 of the referees who hear these cases, including one in Philadelphia, as well as members of their administrative staff. That amounts to one-quarter of all unemployment claims referees, according to Julia Simon-Mishel, an attorney with the nonprofit Philadelphia Legal Assistance.

    “The referees have an enormous workload on their shoulders and so trying to get these hearings scheduled with less referees across the state has been problematic,” she said. “I’ve had clients who have waited two months for hearings.”

    Simon-Mishel, who is representing Flynn, said her clients often have to wait at least two weeks for a decision that must be processed at a service center, adding to the wait time.

    “We’ve had a client who was found eligible for benefits by a referee and then, never got processed by the service center until we followed up,” Simon-Mishel said. “It took three weeks for them to finally release her benefits after she had been found eligible.”

    In the meantime, Tasha Flynn and others are stuck in limbo.

    “I have my car payment, I have to pay rent, I have to pay the bills and things like that,” she said. “I just can’t hold on any more, everything is started to get backed up.”

    While she waits for the appeal process to play out, Flynn said she’s applying for public assistance or what many call “welfare.”

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